The Karachi gallery circuit has resumed its activities after a disruption due to the pandemic. The port city, being the country’s commercial hub, has nurtured art from all over Pakistan for decades. The physical spaces of the art galleries have been critical anchors for creative expression and, in these times, when people have been relatively isolated and fearful, they play an even more important role as catalysts for healing.
Though the coming together of artists, art and the viewer in physical spaces will remain strained for some time, the outreach of the gallery on online forums is far more necessary now than ever before.
Canvas Gallery has made a welcome jump, as seen in their recent presentation of the solo show of Muzzamil Ruheel’s paintings titled A Guide to Nonsensical Dreams.
The work was installed at the gallery but one would guess that the majority of traffic was in the virtual space. User-friendly applications allowed the viewer to navigate his or her way as if in the 3D real time experience.
Although first hand experience of an artwork is the preferred mode of viewing it, virtual portals of exhibitions provide the advantage of unlimited access by international and local audiences. It is also about time that local galleries opted for a stronger online presence in promoting artists and curators who show with them.
Muzzamil Ruheel’s paintings offer a lyrical uneasiness, allowing viewers to project their own meanings on to them
Ruheel’s imagery has evoked a deep connection to khattaati or calligraphy throughout his practice. The bond to the Thuluth and the Nastaliq script stems from his early training as a khattaat [calligrapher]. His work is an evocative study of time and space, where the last 10 years or more have seen him pursue the essence of form from the script.
Engaged in a dialogue that binds and nurtures him, he seems to have tried to step outside the conventional frame (with the viewer), and to find freedom from constraints of time or convention. The script recedes, the sculptural is dismantled and, as he says, “We cannot see beyond the fog.” In the new body of paintings, where the terrain is uncharted, we see a huge leap, for it does not seem to matter where we are or who we are.
A painting such as ‘Reflections Beyond’ carries the linear geometry of Ruheel’s trademark script, forming a pattern or jaal. The painting evokes the feeling of being within a surreal space, possibly in another dimension or in a voyage to an unknown nightscape. The script becomes unattainable, and thus we anchor to the poetry in this moment of awakening.
The work allows the viewer to face his or her own dreams or doubts, providing you a strong sense of the cathartic. There is the feeling that you are standing beside the artist, together in awe of the space in the painting, and of the time we are living.
We also know that the artist has been alone and, in that stillness, he has found beauty and balance in these vistas of his imagination. Perhaps he stands in a quest similar to his predecessors, as one finds fleeting glimpses of Colin David’s minimalist interiors as well as the sparse geometric divisions in Imran Mir’s imagery.
Titles such as ‘Deferred Dreams’, ‘A Few More Steps’ and ‘Walking Among the Clouds’ present uneasy vistas of another time, or perhaps of a suspended space. We wonder if there is possibility to hold it in some way, as does the artist, when he catches light under a doorway, or as he imagines a conversation with ideas rather than things.
The spaces are nuanced with ambiguity and poetic interludes which convey hope and hopelessness, strength and fragility, sight and sightlessness, dream and reality, sense and the nonsensical.
The work is rooted in the realm of ideas in the imagery that transports and even transforms the viewer, as it must have the artist. But we will never know exactly what it is that is before us, because that is the freedom and the responsibility that the artist bestows upon the viewer.
“A Guide to Nonsensical Dreams” was exhibited at Canvas Gallery in Karachi from January 25 to February 4, 2021
Published in Dawn, EOS, February 14th, 2021